Miami-Dade County

Candle likely touched off blaze at camp

"It was like a whirlwind," Jimmy Alvin said of the ferocious fire early Thursday that destroyed the place the homeless man had called home for the past six months.

Within 15 minutes, after an unattended candle apparently tipped over in a wood shanty, Umoja Village, a camp in Liberty City where activists built a refuge for the homeless to protest Miami's lack of affordable housing, burned to the ground. All 44 residents were displaced.

No one was injured in the

blaze at the camp, at Northwest 17th Avenue and 62nd Street.

"This is just tragic," said Alvin, 40. "And now they are going to try to move us off this land. This is just wrong."

The fire apparently started in a shack near the center of the village around 12:15 a.m., said Ignatius Carroll, a Miami Fire Department spokesman. The man who lived in the shack had gone out for the night but had left the candle burning, other residents said.

Jonathan Baker, one of the first to move into the village when protesters took over the land on Oct. 23, said he saw a spark coming from the shack just past midnight. He said he found a mattress engulfed in flames and tried to stamp it out.

But the fire spread from

wood shanty to wood shanty, then ignited at least three propane tanks used for cooking. The tanks exploded.

Within minutes, the flames -- some 100 feet high -- cir-cled the property, consuming the 20 shanties. Nearby apartment buildings were evacuated. Seven fire trucks responded and had the blaze under control by 12:30 a.m.

When Alvin first saw the flames, he said he just wanted to run into his shack and grab his stuff. Instead, he kicked open the shanty of Bruce Bil-lue, a 66-year-old with a slow walk. He hoisted Billue over his shoulders and carried him across the street.

"I was just sleeping, ''Billue said. "And this man comes up and picks me up. I was confused. Now I'm thankful."